Football Wrap Up: #22 William & Mary vs. #21 Richmond

via espn.com
via espn.com

That’s a wrap! William & Mary’s season came to an end on Saturday at the hands of arch-rival Richmond in what amounted to a regular season playoff game. The victor advanced to the FCS playoffs, and the loser ended their season. This season marked another winning record for the Tribe, but in a more perfect world, a playoff berth would have been the icing on the cake.

Offense: Like in the Towson game a week ago, William & Mary’s offense got off to a fast start. The Tribe’s first offensive drive went for 7 plays and 51 yards. W&M wasn’t able to capitalize on the strong showing by scoring a touchdown, but instead settled for a short field goal.

After forcing a Richmond field goal the following possession, the green and gold got the ball back, already tied 3-3 early in the first quarter. After a five yard rush by Mikal Abdul-Saboor, quarterback Steve Cluley threw the best ball of his collegiate career to Sean Ballard, who took it to the house for an incredible 60 yard touchdown pass and run. At this point in the game, William & Mary led the Spiders by a score of 10-3 in the first quarter.

The Spiders would then counter with an efficient drive capped by a one yard touchdown plunge, tying the score at 10-10. On the following W&M drive, true freshman wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon, who has been great for the Tribe all year long, had trouble securing a handoff from quarterback Steve Cluley on an end-around play. The ball was fumbled by the Tribe at their own 39 yard line, and recovered by Richmond. This was a huge momentum killer for the Tribe, as the Spiders would go on to score their second straight touchdown after the fumble recovery, and go up by a score of 17-10.

However, later in the second quarter, the Tribe would march down the field on a very quick, 9 play 69 yard drive in a mere 1 minute and twenty seconds. On the drive, Steve Cluley connected on back-to-back throws with senior wide receiver Tre McBride on throws of 14 and 20 yards, both going for first downs. Abdul-Saboor also checked in with a run of 13 yards on the drive. Cluley would ultimately hook up for the second time of the day with Sean Ballard on a quick slant near the goal line. The score tied the game at 17 apiece.

After Richmond responded with an incredibly quick field goal to end the second quarter, the Tribe found themselves down 17-20 at the half. But it was in the second half that the W&M offense faltered. The Tribe would turn the ball over on their own side of the field once more, ultimately turning the tide of the game in Richmond’s favor for good.

Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor, who has been William & Mary’s offensive workhorse and the CAA’s leading rusher, coughed up a fumble during a crucial drive for the Tribe. W&M found themselves down 20-27 early in the fourth quarter, and was looking to tie the game up. Abdul-Saboor rushed for three yards, was stripped of the ball on W&M’s own 28 yard line, and the ball was recovered by Richmond. The Spiders would again capitalize on the turnover, score a touchdown, and put the game out of reach, 34-20.

Another point to note during this game was the play of the William & Mary offensive line. Literally down to all second stringers along the line, the unit performed very well outside of a couple plays. Abdul-Saboor was able to run throughout the game, and finished with over 100 yards. Cluley was given adequate time in the pocket to go through his reads, and was only sacked twice on the day. This was an impressive showing against one of the best defenses in the CAA, and big kudos go out to them for the stellar effort. It again shows the depth that the team had this year on the offensive side of the ball, and on the line specifically.

In the end, quarterback Steve Cluley finished with 240 yards, 2 touchdowns, and one interception. Cluley’s lone interception came in the second quarter on a throw into double coverage on what looked like a four verticals play-call, intended for Sean Ballard in the end zone. Overall, Cluley had a very solid game outside of that one throw. Wide receiver Tre McBride finished with 8 receptions for 134 yards, while Sean Ballard followed up with 4 receptions for 91 yards and 2 touchdowns. Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor yet again hit the century mark on the ground, totaling 114 yards on 22 carries.

Defense: If you had to sum it up succinctly, the defense could not force much needed turnovers. We know that the Tribe defense is not what it was a season ago, but the Spiders’ offensive system seemed to give the W&M defensive unit headaches all game long. Richmond was able to find a very good balance between the run and the pass, as they often executed on short pass plays and halfback draws from the shotgun formation.

In order to stop this offense, the Tribe needed to get to Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss, sack him often, and keep him on his toes. In short, this did not happen. Try as they may, Strauss was completely confident in the pocket the entire game. William & Mary had one sack on the day, courtesy of junior captain Luke Rhodes. But one was not nearly enough; CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Mike Reilly was not able to get to Strauss, which was somewhat surprising–but Richmond game-planned very well for Strauss’ protection and kept Reilly in check throughout.

It also didn’t help that the Tribe that was down to their third and fourth string cornerbacks. DeAndre Houston-Carson has been held out the past two to three weeks now, and was again held out of action on Saturday. Adding to the secondary’s woes, cornerback Trey Reed, on what may have been his only kick return of the year, suffered an apparent foot/ankle injury, and left the game. He was seen on the sideline in crutches and ice on his foot during the game.

In relief of these two, Aaron Swinton filled in for Houston-Carson, as he has the past few weeks. Trey Reed was replaced by senior cornerback Jesse McNeal. This inexperience at the cornerback position did nothing but aid Richmond’s talented quarterback on his throws, as the Tribe never seemed to knock the Spiders offense out of rhythm.

Throughout the game, Richmond connected on multiple short passes that went for distance after the catch. William & Mary tried blitzing the Spiders on several occasions, but the short passing game aided Richmond, as Strauss was able to get the ball out before the sack each time. The Tribe defense let up one big play, as Spider running back Seth Fisher broke off a 42 yard touchdown run, putting Richmond up 27-20.

All things considered, the defense kept the Tribe in the game and was not at all helped by the Tribe’s two offensive fumbles. Both fumbles by Dedmon and Abdul-Saboor, one in the first half and one in the second, set the already potent Richmond offense up inside the Tribe’s own 40 yard-line on two different occasions. The Spiders capitalized on these two attempts, but one could argue that the two lost fumbles should have never occurred in the first place. Those 14 points could have been avoided, and who knows how the game would have turned out if the Tribe had held on to the ball on those two possessions.

Linebackers Airek Green and Luke Rhodes both finished with 10 total tackles. Senior captain Stephen Sinnott had two batted balls, and Tyler Claytor had one. As mentioned, Rhodes was the only player on the team to record a sack. Richmond totaled 473 yards of total offense, 291 passing yards and 182 rushing yards.

Special Teams: Senior kicker John Carpenter connected on two field goals of 20 yards and 25 yards, with one coming in the first quarter and the other coming in the third quarter. Punter Hunter Windmuller was dressed on the sideline, but did not play in the game; Nick Dorka, who has filled in for both Carpenter and Windmulller this season, took over punting duties in this game.

Around the CAA: James Madison, New Hampshire, Villanova, and Richmond all secured FCS Playoff berths. James Madison and Richmond will host home games for the first round, and Villanova/New Hampshire both received first round byes.

Final Season Statistics:

via tribeathletics.com
via tribeathletics.com

Offense
QB: Steve Cluley: 164 of 287 (57% completion percentage), 2048 yds, 11 TD, 4 INT
RB: Mikal Abdul-Saboor: 249 attempts, 1317 yds, 5.1 yards per carry, 12 TD
Kendell Anderson: 66 attempts, 319 yds, 4.8 yards per carry, 5 TD
Jarrell Cooper: 40 attempts, 133 yds, 3.1 yards per carry, 0 TD
WR: Tre McBride: 64 receptions, 809 yds, 12.6 yds per catch, 4 TDs
Sean Ballard: 29 receptions, 487 yds, 16.8 yds per catch, 3 TDs
DeVonte Dedmon: 24 receptions, 300 yds, 12.5 yds per catch, 1 TD
TE: Andrew Caskin: 5 receptions, 77 yds, 15.4 yds per catch, 1 TD

Defense
LB: Luke Rhodes: 93 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks
Airek Green: 68 total tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 INT, 1 blocked kick
Marcus Harvey: 30 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
CB: DeAndre Houston-Carson: 67 total tackles, 7 passes defended, 3 INT, 4 blocked kicks
Trey Reed: 49 total tackles, 5 passes defended
S/LB: Jared Velasquez: 73 total tackles, 3 passes defended, 1 INT
Ivan Tagoe: 60 total tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 INT
Keanu Reuben: 40 total tackles, 1 pass defended
DL: Mike Reilly: 41 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 8 QB hits
Isaiah Stephens: 42 total tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 QB hits
Jasper Coleman: 33 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks
Tyler Claytor: 31 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 QB hit
Stephen Sinnott: 24 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits

Special Teams
K: John Carpenter: 18/23 (78%) on Field Goal attempts, 24/24 (100%) on Extra Point Attempts
Nick Dorka: 2/3 (66%) on Field Goal attempts, 7/7 (100%) on Extra Point Attempts
P: Hunter Windmuller: 27 punts, 1177 yds, 43.6 average yards per punt
Nick Dorka: 22 punts, 951 yds, 43.2 average yards per punt

Conclusion: The Tribe has ended another season just one game short of the FCS playoffs. Even though it hurts to come so close and receive nothing, it’s great to see the Tribe execute back-to-back winning seasons. In the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, William & Mary won just 7 games. In the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, William & Mary has doubled that number and won 14 total games.

Next season will hopefully be the one that brings home an FCS playoff berth. In addition, there are plenty of interesting offseason stories to follow this offseason. The continued maturation of quarterback Steve Cluley will be much anticipated, next season will be running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor’s senior year, and Mike Reilly and Tre McBride (possibly other W&M players, too!) will look to make a run at the NFL.

The Tribe will undoubtedly collect themselves after this season, and hopefully return stronger than ever next year. We look forward to a successful offseason, and will never stop rooting for our green and gold. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

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